Move to Spain 2: Important Preparations

This information is mostly pertinent to anyone in the  Auxiliaries de Conversación program or anyone moving to teach/study in Spain. 

Don’t forget Part 1 – Arranging Your Move (to arrange flights, trains and hotels). What are your next steps?

Feel free to use this table of contents to skip directly to where you want to go:

  1. Banking – getting euros and using your card in Spain
  2. Phone – if you can, and how to bring your phone
  3. Loose Ends – A checklist of everything to do before you leave
  4. Death and Illness – Talk to your family about how you want to find out if the worst happens
  5. Other Worst Case Things– medical checkups and final things to consider

1. Banking

How much money should you bring?

You will want to bring around 300 (Euros) to get yourself settled. This money includes eating and transportation while you’re apartment hunting. You’ll want to bring more if you plan on going out drinking, have to pay your hotel/airbnb in cash, or you are going somewhere expensive.

How do you turn your home-money into euros?

You have about 4 options.

  1. Your bank at home can exchange your money into euros. If you have a very small bank they may have to order euros so you might need to give them around one weeks notice.
  2. You can use an ATM after you arrive to take euros out. If your bank fails to approve your card for international use you might not have any money.
  3. You can exchange money in an airport (not recommended) They have to make money, too, so they will give you a very bad rate.
  4. You can bring a travelers check (extremely not recommended) No one uses these anymore and you may have extreme difficulty finding a bank who can help.

A combo of 1 and 2 works really well. Bring 150 euros from home then make sure your card works to get more money as you need it.

How do you use your card in Spain?

You have to have your card approved for international use.

Check for three things before you leave:

  1. Does your card have a chip? If your card still doesn’t have the chip and relies only on the strip it might not work.
  2. Does your card have a normal 4 digit PIN? Some bizarre-o banks have PIN numbers that use more than 4 digits. This will not work.
  3. Is your card going to last through your time? If the expiration date is even close to when you’re going back home, see if they can issue you a card that has a new, further away expiration date.

Questions to Ask your Home Bank

You will need to talk to someone at your home bank about your options before you leave. 

  • How can I get in contact with you while I’m abroad? You can call your home bank from Spain via skype (put money into your skype account). But will your home bank recognize a phone call or do they have more security in place? See if you can get someone’s direct line so you can call someone who understands your situation without wasting skype credits sitting on hold.
  • Can I transfer money to Spain?  If you want to move large quantities of money from your home account to your Spain account you’ll need to ask about that. For example: What codes/account numbers do you/I need? What is the fee?
  • Can I use my card in Spain? (You may need to give them dates). If they say no to this question you’re going to need a new bank. See below
  • If I travel to another country like Germany or Belgium will my card still work? Yeah, sure, they’ve approved your card for Spain but what if you travel? Will you need to unlock your card for each country? Keep in mind if you want to travel and the best airline is Turkish airlines your card might be blocked because you’re being charged out of Turkey. (This is why you want a direct line to call someone to unlock things). 
  • What kinds of fees will I get hit with for using it abroad? Foreign percentages? A fixed fee? An ATM fee? An international fee? A foreign currency fee? If they have awful rates see below:

If your bank is absurd about foreign fees consider opening a new bank account just to be able to have more freedom abroad. Some people swear by HSBC or Bank of America. We have a Charles Schwab account (not paid) that refunds foreign ATM fees. We applied a few weeks before we left and they happily expedited our cards for us.

Should you have multiple banks and cards?

Picture this: You went to a restaurant that doesn’t take a card and you’re out of cash.  You run to an ATM and put your Spain card in – nothing. You put your home bank card in – nothing. What do you do now? You can go search for a new ATM and keep trying or you can pull out your handy dandy other home bank card.

This has happened to us both when we lived in Germany and in Spain. Having a 2nd home bank card is always a nice idea. We recommend a big bank (HSBC. Bank of America, Charles Schwab, etc) and your preferred bank (the account you’ve always had). Sometimes it’s the big bank that fails, other times it’s the small bank. It’s always somewhere rural and this is the only ATM for miles.

2. Phone

Will you be bringing your phone to Spain? Will it work abroad? There are so many hundreds of phones and plans that we can’t answer for you. But we’ll try.

Can you bring your phone to Spain?

Generally if you can take the SIM out (it’s unlocked) you can bring your phone and just put a Spanish SIM in when you arrive.

This is something you’ll have ask your own home-phone folks about. You might have to buy yourself out of your plan. They may also have an international plan you can hop on.

What is the best phone to bring abroad?

A smart phone – Android or Apple – doesn’t matter.  If you still have a clam shell or brick you might as well just get a whole new phone after you arrive. You will absolutely need to use WhatsApp to get anything done here (Spaniards don’t like to text, they like to use WhatsApp. If you want to use WhatsApp you’ll need a smart phone).

Keeping Your Home Number?

Some plans like GoogleFi let you use your phone anywhere on earth. This is cool but when you have a weird phone number (unrecognizable country code) sometimes people won’t answer. You can always try it and if you find no one ever answers your calls, then just get a Spanish number/SIM.

3. Loose Ends

At least skim this list for your sake to try to clean up any loose ends before you’re gone.

Library  I didn’t know I had a .30 cent library fee and it compounded in interest the whole time I was abroad ($15). Check if you have any unpaid fees at your library or elsewhere.

Loan Payments – if you owe anyone any money make sure you know how you’re going to pay them while you’re abroad.

Car – If you’re leaving a car behind make sure it’s not going to sit there for all 8 months. Someone should at least start it and run it for ~10 minutes about once a month. Driving it around the block would be even better. If you live somewhere really hot or cold you should consider having someone using it more often.

Apartment/Home – if you are leaving a place behind start making arrangements now for who will take over, sublet, or house sit.

Animals – if you’re bringing an animal do an insane amount of research on chipping requirements, vaccinations and plane tickets. If you’re not bringing and animal do an insane amount of research on who is going to care for it.

Subscriptions – Netflix, Scribd, Hulu, Amazon Prime. Not all of these things are going to work when you land. For example Hulu can’t be used in Spain at this time – so be prepared to cancel the subscription before you leave (sometimes you can’t even access sites from abroad). Netflix works fine (although has different options).

Mail – Is it going to be forwarded to anyone? Should they open it or just put it in a pile?

Voting – You can probably vote abroad if you register yourself as being abroad. You should be able to do this after you have a Spanish address but it can’t hurt to ask someone while you’re still at home.

Online Accounts – the first time you use your Gmail account abroad you might get locked out for security purposes. Make sure you have access to another account to unlock it (or use 2 step authentications).

4. Death and Illness

Not your death or illness. But friends and family at home.

Even if you don’t have sick or old family members at home you might want to talk about it now before you leave.

If someone is sick/injured do you want to know? 

Someone might keep you updated on the most minor things that turn out to be nothing (but you worry yourself sick about it). Other times because no one told you what was going on – it’s a terrible shock when their condition gets worse. You need to discuss this with trusted friends/family.

If you don’t discuss this with family members you’re just relying on what they think is best, rather than what is actually best.


Talk to this same person about:

  1. How do you want them to tell you? Email, skype?  An email to arrange a face to face skype? Your relationship with the deceased might depend on if it needs to be face to face or not. You don’t want an email “we need to skype” and it’s your great aunt’s dog. But if that dog was the coolest dog you’ve ever met, that changes things.
  2. Do you even want to know? If you’re already close to returning home, should they even tell you?
  3. Do you think you’ll fly back home? Do you have the money or time? How will that work? Can you afford a last minute 6,000 plane ticket? Will you quit your job? Give these questions a good think (not grammatically accurate but I mean what I say).

Say your goodbyes to everyone for real, just in case. Even if you think your triple bypass surgery obese uncle will be the first to go, accidents happen and it could be someone you never thought you would have to say goodbye to.

5. Other Worst Case Things

No, we’re not talking about you writing a will out. But you should consider

  1. Leaving photocopies of your passport/important documents with a friend or family member
  2. Memorizing your own passport number (this is just handy)
  3. Keeping the phone numbers needed to cancel your cards somewhere safe
  4. Knowing where your nearest embassy is.
  5.  Registering yourself as living abroad with your embassy – they can at least email you handy information.

Last minute health appointments:

Since it’s easier to go to the doctor, dentist, gynecologist and hair stylist in English – consider going now. Obviously you’ll be able to go in Spain, it’s not a third world country. But it’s nicer to be able to speak English while you still can.

If you’re bringing birth control pills or any medicines make sure you bring your prescription. You technically need one to get new pills in Spain (although sometimes you can just show the box).

If you have glasses/contact bring a copy of your prescription.

Power of Attorney?

This is a really extreme step some people recommend when you move abroad. This is a really intense choice to make and should not be made lightly. You’re not going to be gone that long and if you are, you’ll find Skype and certified mail will probably eliminate the need for anyone to act on your behalf.

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